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North Korea tells Japan fresh spy satellite launch coming in days, its third attempt this year

North Korea has issued formal notice of a satellite launch as early as Wednesday, Japan said, defying warnings from South Korea and multiple UN resolutions banning Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology.

The launch would be the third attempt by North Korea this year after two earlier failures to put a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit, most recently in August.

The Japanese coastguard posted a notification on its website on Tuesday of a launch window between Wednesday and December 1. South Korea’s state maritime safety agency issued a warning to vessels of the planned launch for the same areas as previous launches – in the direction of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea.

A man walks past a television at a railway station in Seoul broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a space rocket in August. Photo: Reuters
The notice prompted immediate condemnation from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who said his country’s defence systems, including the Aegis destroyers and PAC-3 air defence missiles, stood ready for any “unexpected situation” that arose.

“Even if the purpose is to launch a satellite, using ballistic missile technology is a violation of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” he told reporters. “It is also a matter that greatly affects national security.”

Kishida added that Japan was coordinating its response with South Korea and the United States, its partners in a trilateral defence arrangement.

North Korea spy satellite launch ends in failure, again

Earlier this month, Seoul’s spy agency said that Pyongyang was in the final stages of preparations for another effort to put a military eye in the sky. South Korea’s defence ministry said it was watching the North’s planned launch. Previous launches came in the early hours of the first day of the window, the ministry said, and it was possible the third attempt would be successful.

South Korean defence minister Shin Won-sik said on Sunday that the lift-off could take place as early as this week.

“We sternly warn North Korea to … immediately suspend the current preparations to launch a military spy satellite,” Kang Ho-pil, chief director of operations at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday.

“If North Korea goes ahead with the launch of a military reconnaissance satellite despite our warning, our military will take necessary measures to guarantee the lives and safety of the people.”

Objects salvaged by the South Korean military, presumed to be parts of the North Korean space-launch vehicle that crashed into sea following a launch failure in May, are displayed in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, in June. Photo: Yonhap via AP
After a failed second attempt in August, Pyongyang said it would carry out the third launch in October, though it never materialised. After the May launch attempt, South Korea retrieved the wreckage of the satellite from the sea and said an analysis showed it had no meaningful use as a reconnaissance platform.

The UN Security Council has adopted many resolutions calling on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since it first conducted a nuclear test in 2006.

Pyongyang considers its space and military rocket programmes a sovereign right, and has said it plans a fleet of satellites to monitor moves by US and South Korean troops. Analysts say spy satellites are crucial to improving the effectiveness of North Korea’s weapons.


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Successfully putting a spy satellite into orbit would improve North Korea’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, particularly over South Korea, and provide crucial data in any military conflict, experts say.

North Korea’s notice follows its denouncement on Monday of the potential US sale of hundreds of missiles to Japan and South Korea, calling it a dangerous act and vowing to boost deterrence and respond to increased tension.

On Tuesday, the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson entered the South Korean port of Busan on a previously scheduled visit as part of an increased readiness by the allies against North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats, South Korea’s navy said.

North Korea likely to succeed with spy satellite launch: Seoul

South Korea separately plans to launch its first reconnaissance satellite from California on November 30 with the aid of the US.

North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, ignoring warnings from the US, South Korea and their allies.

Last week, it said it carried out successful ground tests of a “new type” of solid-fuel engine for its banned intermediate-range ballistic missiles, calling it a crucial step against “the grave and unstable security environment”.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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